By: Kristen Hope Justice
Smooth, easy, melodic with a twist of twang, Meg Allison’s Missing Piece is a nice compliment to a rainy Sunday afternoon. Sit by a fireplace, get cozy, pour a glass of wine, and simply feel good listening to this up and coming star. For the lover of Norah Jones, Feels Like Home or Sheryl Crow, Tuesday Night Music Club, Missing Piece is a definite addition to the collection.
I recently got together with Meg to go inside her mind, behind the scenes, to expose the “missing piece” of Meg Allison.
KHJ: What inspires you to make music?
MA: Like most singer/songwriters would agree, songwriting is an outlet. It’s therapy for me.
KHJ: Can you describe your first music memory?
MA: Whitney Houston. I loved Whitney Houston when I was a little. I remember getting a toy microphone for Christmas and taking it everywhere with me, trying to sing like she did. I would force my parents to sit through hours of choreographed music videos. I even turned my Grandma’s storage closet into a dressing room. Man, what a diva I was!
KHJ: Where are you from originally?
MA: I grew up in Evanston, IL. I went to School at Indian University, and then transferred to Miami of Ohio University where I majored in Mass Communications. I, then, moved back to Chicago, and now I live there with three of my best friends.
KHJ: Who would you say have been your most prominent musical influences?
MA: Well after I realized that I didn’t have the chops to sing like Whitney Houston, I started to find my own voice and my own style. I fell in love with folk music at summer camp in Wisconsin. I remember watching all the older counselors play guitar and sing, and I knew I wanted to do that. It was the harmonies against the acoustic guitars that just blew me away. I loved James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkle, Tracy Chapman, and the Indigo Girls. I was a folk nerd for a while.
Then, I got Patty Griffin’s Living with Ghosts, in 1996. I’m pretty sure I listened to that album for about a year non-stop. I wanted to sing and write and play just like her. That album really inspired me to start playing guitar and writing. It was just her and her guitar, no more production than that. I was like, hey, I can do that!
KHJ: As an artist yourself, is there any other artist out there that you completely identify with on a deeper level?
MA: I’d say I’m the female version of Jason Mraz, Josh Kelley, John Mayer, and Jack Johnson. Wow, that’s a lot of J’s! Maybe I should change my name to Jeg Allison. I love Fionna Apple and Rachel Yamagata, but I’m not as sultry as them. I can’t pull off the sultry thing. They’ve got that mysterious, hot, raspy thing going on.
KHJ: If you had to compare your sound to another artist who would it be?
MA: I hear Carole King meets Sheryl Crow. I’d like to think that I have a distinct tone, but everyone tells me I sound like someone! My voice has really matured in the past couple of years. I sing from my chest now, and my range has dropped a lot. I feel like I just went through puberty or something.
KHJ: I find it very interesting to see what types of music other artists are listening to. It gives a glimpse into that person’s world and mind. What CD are you currently listening to?
MA: Currently I am listening to KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope -she’s a kick ass Scottish singer/songwriter.
KHJ: The songs on Missing Piece are both guitar and piano driven. When did you start playing the guitar and piano?
MA: I started taking piano lessons at age 8. I took lessons forever, but I was totally undisciplined and had no patience for reading music. I would improvise and play by ear instead of following the notes. I had a ton of natural talent, but I was never the best student. I started playing guitar when I went to college. I knew I needed to have a musical outlet, and my mom’s grand piano was too big to take to school- so my parents bought me my first guitar, an acoustic Washburn. I taught myself how to play.
KHJ: What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?
MA: I don’t have much spare time! I am doing everything that a label would do for an artist. Plus, I am the artist. I am constantly booking shows, sending out promotional materials, networking, marketing, learning, and researching. Meanwhile I am trying to stay inspired, trying to write new material, and working on my live show.
KHJ: You perform all around the country. Do you perform mostly solo?
MA: Yes, almost always. I haven’t met any musicians who are dedicated enough to go at this with me. I would love to have a band, but at this point, it’s hard enough to manage my own schedule and stay afloat. I don’t have the means to support a band right now. I have enough to worry about!
KHJ: Would you ever consider going the American Idol route?
MA: Funny you ask. I tried out 4 years ago in their second season! I didn’t make it past the first round of auditions, thank God! I don’t think I was showing enough skin or didn’t have enough sparkles on my jeans that day. But, I figured that was a good sign. At least I wasn’t bad enough to be made fun of! My mom convinced me into trying out for the audition. I knew it wasn’t my scene.
Reality shows and contests have opened up a whole new avenue to stardom. I can’t say whether they are good or bad. I’m not trying to be a pop star, so I don’t consider it a threat. I love watching American Idol, though. I think it’s hilarious!
KHJ: In regards to writing material, every artist has their own process. Some artists write the music first and then the words and melody follow, and for others they come up with the melodies and words first, and then come up with the music. What is your process?
MA: I write with my guitar and have only recently started writing on my keyboard. Usually I’ll find a melody and start mumbling words until something comes out that I like. Then I build on that, but if I’m not in the right frame of mind, the process doesn’t work. The song has to be worth writing. The emotion has to be there. I can’t make up stories about fictional situations. Everything I write stems from truth in my life and is emotionally driven. Songwriting for me can be really rewarding and extremely frustrating, because I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to my music. If it doesn’t speak to me within the first 10 minutes, I usually walk away and give up. That’s something I’m trying to work on. I have to learn to force myself to write 20 not-so-great songs in hopes that the 21st will be “it”! Songwriting comes from another place. Sometimes I don’t even really know how it all happens. It’s magical.
KHJ: When you write songs, what events from your life have most inspired your songwriting?
MA: I’d have to say my family. My oldest sister, Emily is handicapped, brain damaged, since birth. She’s my biggest inspiration. I’ve helped to take care of her since I was little; always thinking it was normal to have a disabled sister. She’s taught me so much. She makes me think. She makes me strong. She really keeps me grounded and driven; having Emily as a sister has been so eye opening. I have so much love for her and my family. It pours out into my songs.
KHJ: If you had to choose one favorite song from Missing Piece, which song would it be?
MA: -Having said that- my favorite song off of Missing Piece is “Song for my Sister”.
My second inspiration for songs is relationships. Nothing helps heal your heart better than writing a great break-up song. I like writing songs with conflict. I love to expose the irony of an unhealthy relationship. Those are the most relatable songs.
The toughest song to write is a happy love song. It’s really hard to capture that feeling- Love. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know why, but it always comes out sounding cheesy and cliché.
KHJ: What was it like to make your latest CD, Missing Piece?
MA: I had put together all the recordings I had done and called that my demo. I researched producers and came across Chris Keup and Stewart Myers while reading about some artists that I admire. I sent them my demo on a whim, and got a call from Chris about a month later.
Originally I only wanted to do an EP, but I had so much fun and loved what they were doing that we ended up recording a full album. Chris and I wrote the second set of songs together which was really exciting to have new material and to be able to co-write with him. All together it took about a month in the studio, then several months of postproduction.
Chris and Stewart provided my band for this album. They have this crazy group of friends that all are accomplished musicians. It was all recorded at his farmhouse outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. They have a beautiful set-up there.
I came there with most of the songs written or half written. Chris Keup helped me organize my thoughts and coherently put it all together. For the few that we wrote together from scratch, I had ideas of what I wanted to say and snippets of melodies- he helped me glue it all together. Sometimes you need that extra push/deadline to finish a song.
It was hard to give up the reigns on my songs. They are my babies, and I become obsessed with every song that I write, so it felt really uncomfortable for someone to rearrange it. I wasn’t used to hearing any instrumentation/production with my songs, so it was really awful at first. I was terrified that they weren’t getting my sound. It felt like I had a baby and someone took it away and dressed it up in a funny outfit. It was still mine, but it was wearing something I would never have chosen. I was forced to think outside the box which I learned is really important. I learned so much from doing this album. I’m learning every day.
KHJ: What are your long-term musical goals?
MA: Longevity! I want to see where I can go as a performer first, but always continue to develop my songwriting skills. I hope to be writing songs for myself and other artists until I’m 80!
KHJ: Where do you envision yourself in 5 years?
MA: I see myself on a tour bus, and hopefully living successfully off my music career, whether that be doing it all myself or with the help of a label or a publishing deal.
KHJ: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
MA: Passionate, receptive, practical
KHJ: Thank you very much Meg, I really enjoyed listening to your music, and it was great talking to you!
MA: Thank You!
At 23, Meg Allison is smack-dab in the middle of the crazy-awesome-wonderful-frustrating life of a singer/songwriter—waiting tables by day, singing by night, and paying her dues.
After listening to Meg sing, it is evident that she possesses a gift for storytelling with heartfelt emotion. She writes the songs you can’t get out of your head, with the lyrics you’ve lived. Meg’s songs are not only inspired by her life, but by the artists she most admires such as Jason Mraz, Martin Sexton, Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams, and Ray LaMontagne. Witness one performance and you can tell that when on stage with her guitar on one side and a beer on the other, she is as comfortable as old jeans.
Meg has earned her loyal following since she first started playing out in college bars back at Miami of Ohio University, where she majored in Mass Communications. After graduating, she packed up her car and headed for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Why not!? It was that summer in the mountains when she realized her passion for singing was no longer a hobby, but inevitably her career.
Now with the release of Meg’s debut album, Missing Piece, produced by Chris Keup (Jason Mraz, Josh Kelly, Jonathan Rice) and producer/engineer Stewart Myers (Lifehouse, Rachel Yamagata, Liz Phair) Meg continues to prove her talent. With Chicago as her home-base, Meg keeps herself busy and her touring calendar full.